This week in parashat Vayera, we continue the story of Abraham and his family and we are confronted with scenes of family conflict and drama. Abraham does not demonstrate the most exemplary of parenting skills as he expels Hagar and their son Ishmael to the harsh wilderness, and takes his son Isaac and almost sacrifices him to God. There is conflict between Sarah and Hagar, there is some kind of disturbance between the brothers, Ishmael and Isaac; brothers, wives, parents, children, all arguing and disagreeing. There is trauma and dissent in this small family and once again the Torah shows us that our patriarchs and our matriarchs – in fact, all the biblical figures – are flawed characters. They are human and, like us, they make mistakes; they say the wrong thing and they struggle with their relationships. They act from places of anger and hurt, they feel scared and alone. We can all find a little of ourselves in them, and that is what makes them such powerful and important role models — because they are not perfect. We learn from them how to behave and how not to behave; we learn that everyone, even our great heroes, sometimes acts in ways that are not just or right, and we learn from their mistakes and as well as from their triumphs. We not only learn from the figures from whom we trace our ancestry and heritage, but from everyone in the Torah. Each of their stories are honored and remembered alongside ours.
Rabbi David Segal wrote so eloquently in his Torah commentary this week:
“We read repeatedly about God’s special love for B’nai Yisrael, the people of Israel, our unique covenant and our election to receive God’s word. But we also read about God’s revelation to others outside the community of Israel. Noah precedes Abraham and receives both blessing and law. Hagar, in this week’s portion, receives God’s direct blessing and protection after her expulsion. It is striking that our tradition would preserve stories of God’s special revelation to outsiders. These examples remind us that we have no monopoly on God’s blessing; no exclusive claim on God’s word. We have our special, sacred text; others have theirs. Pluralistic truth should lead us to humility, for God transcends religion. It should also call us to responsibility, to respect and protect the divine word in every tradition and the divine image in every person — our fellow Jews, our neighbours and the strangers in our midst.” (Rabbi David Segal “Protecting the Divine Image in Everyone” in Ten Minutes of Torah: Reform Voices of Torah, 26th October 2015)
Our story is interwoven with all the stories in the Torah and we can learn, understand and grow from each of the people we encounter, their relationships to each other and to God. Stories are powerful sources of learning and growing — they remind us how alike we are and how much we have to learn from one another. I pray that we can always see the Divine in each person and that we continue to hear and learn our stories.